A Writing Event Right for You – Part 1 of 3

Writing workshops, conferences, and retreats can be fun, interesting, and exciting ways for authors to learn more about the craft of writing. Over time, I have attended all three types of events and I usually come away inspired and always return to my writing with new knowledge to apply.

When choosing to attend a writing event, here are a few things to consider:

  • What do you want to get from the experience? Is there a specific aspect of the craft that you want to learn more about? Is your primary goal to meet and network with other authors?
  • Who is sponsoring, teaching, or facilitating the event?
  • Do you prefer a format that allows for critique/feedback on your work-in-progress?
  • What is your budget for attending writing events?
  • Do you get the most from longer events that are immersive? Multi-day events that cover a variety of topics? Or short events focused on a single topic or aspect of writing?
  • How far are you willing to drive to attend and how long can you be away from home? Do you have a writing buddy who can share the driving or hotel expenses for distant events?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll discuss all three types of events. This week, we’ll focus on writing workshops. Writing workshops are often locally or regionally sited and typically require the least amount of driving and time away from home of these three kinds of events.

Workshops are offered in a variety of formats. Although some multi-day events describe themselves as workshops, a workshop is typically shorter than a conference or a retreat. They may be a short session—45 minutes or 1 hour—during a larger event, such as a retreat or a conference filled with several days of workshop options at one locale; they can be several hours or a half-day long and focused on one single aspect of writing; or they can be a day-long event held at a local venue, such as a conference center or college.

Some workshops are of the lecture/classroom-learning type while others are experiential. For me, the best workshops are the ones that provide a chance, while still at the event, to use what I just learned in my writing so I have a chance to ask questions of the facilitator or teacher.

With the growth in online courses of all types, the offerings of online workshops have also increased. Indeed, the terms course, class, and workshop are often used interchangeably. Like in-person workshops, online workshops are offered in various formats. Some are strictly email-based: you receive a lesson from the instructor via email and all interactions between you and the instructor, and among the participants, are done via email. On the far end of the spectrum, the facilitator might employ a variety of technology to deliver the online workshop: email, pdf forms and tip sheets, prerecorded videos sent via email or available on a private website, and live video conferencing with the instructor or the entire group of participants.

Be sure to research the workshop’s format and structure, the content or focus, and the instructor or facilitator before committing to a workshop, either in-person or online. Know what your workshop tuition includes, especially if it is long enough to span a mealtime.

Some resources for finding workshops include your local, regional, or state writer’s association and Shaw Guides online. If you live near a university or college, they may offer workshops that do not require you to enroll in their degreed programs.

Have you attended a workshop that was particularly beneficial to your future writing? If so, I’d love to hear about in the comments below or via email (Gina at AroundTheWritersTable.com; replace the “at” with @). Next week, we’ll talk about writers’ conferences.


A Writing Event Right for You – Part 1 of 3 — 3 Comments

  1. William P. Cannon on said:

    My biggest fault, my biggest failure as a writer is that I am ignorant. I know that I need to learn a lot about the art and craft of writing. I have had to read the writing of skilled writers and mock, or imitate them. That’s the only way I know how to write; I was a reader first. I fell in with a group a while back who like to gather to read and grade one another’s writing. I find their critique helpful and at the same time I come away wondering if the kind of writers they are can appreciate the kind of writer I am. I mind the fact that we do not write the same kinds of stories. To them my writing is flat and without favor; unexciting, jejune. That’s what I’ve learned from them. Is that fair, or necessary, to subject one’s writing to such evaluation to grow, or is it better to just keep writing and never know?

    • Benita Wiggins on said:

      William,the phrase “grade one another’s writing” suggest to me that what goes on in your critique group needs some adjustment. I recommend that you acquire a copy of the September 2016 Writer’s Digest magazine and read the article “Tweaking Critiquing” by Steven James. He begins with the following:
      “Critique groups can provide encouraging communities for writers and serve as a great way to get input on your works-in-progress. They can also, however, steer authors in the wrong direction, propagate bad writing advice and become caustic___even discouraging people to the point of tears. He goes on to give very solid ways to make sure that the experience provides feedback in a beneficial way and tactics that you as a member of the group can use to seek out and reap the real rewards of your participation.
      I found the article very well grounded. It has helped me to garner better feedback from those who take the time to read my material and has shown me the difference between giving feedback and giving advice when asked by other authors to critique their work. Critique and criticize are vastly different concepts. I’m not sure that all author groups realize this. James states, “. . . stop considering this a critique group altogether and think of it instead as a feedback forum. Group members aren’t there to evaluate the writing, but to encounter it and respond. . . . pinpoint places where their engagement with the story was disrupted.”
      On a personal note, your use of the word “jejune” perked up my interest in your writing. They might not be interested in your subject but I bet there’s a nice dose of “flavor” in the words you use. Remember, not everything that is written is for everybody and that’s okay.
      Please keep writing. From: Benita Wiggins

    • Bill, your reply brought up a few thoughts for me. Critique groups can vary greatly in their usefulness, often depending upon the participants’ experience in providing thoughtful feedback and knowledge of how to do that. Getting into a group that is a good fit for the author and the author’s type of writing is sometimes a matter of trial and error, trying out different groups over time. Benita’s recommendation below on the article in Writer’s Digest about critique groups/feedback forums is quite valuable. I hope you look it up and perhaps share with your own group.

      In any group, there will feedback that you recognize as helpful and some that you simply have to leave behind for a variety of reasons. It is important, though, that we remain as objective about our work as possible–that’s difficult, I know. You already hold a valuable perspective in knowing there is more to learn. There is ALWAYS more to learn, which is one of the things I love about writing. Do NOT consider this a failure. Even the greatest of writers can still improve. That recognition and the desire to do something about it will take you far in your work.

      Emulating and mirroring the writers we admire is a natural stage in the writer’s development of their own creative voice. Keep reading, keep trying out new things, and learning, and their own voice eventually emerges strong and unique.

      To answer your final question about the fairness and necessity of evaluating the work, my personal opinion is yes, we do need to share and get the feedback. That’s how we grow. Making an assessment of where we stand creatively is how we improve. It is uncomfortable, yes, but a vital part of the writer’s journey.

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